Avalanche closes I-70 near Loveland Ski Area Monday; Vail Pass skiers trigger slide Saturday
“Deep blue, Alpine” skies and “soft, glittering snow” enticed four skiers to take turns down a north-facing slope near Uneva Peak close to Vail Pass Saturday, Nov. 19, but as the second skier carved down the backcountry run, the snow collapsed around him.
The first skier was standing in the path of the avalanche but was able to move before the debris reached him, and the skier caught in the slide was able to ski out while the remaining two descended an adjacent slope, according to Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports.
While the avalanche danger in the area was moderate, a 2 out of a scale that goes to 5, officials with the center are warning backcountry recreationists to exercise caution and pay attention to avalanche forecasts since the report issued before the slide discussed “signs of unstable snow and clues” like shooting cracks and a “drummy feel beneath your feet.”
According to a Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecast discussion posted Monday, Nov. 21, “a flurry” of avalanches were reported across the Northern Mountains region recently.
“Observers reported 12 human-triggered, 10 natural and three unknown avalanches across the area,” the report states. “Most of these avalanches are relatively small, but a couple like this one in Cameron Pass and on Uneva Peak are large enough to bury, injure or kill a person.”
There have been at least 27 avalanches recorded so far this season, according to Colorado Avalanche Information Center reports, and while the ample snow on mountains near Summit County has led to an early and strong start to the ski and ride season, officials with the avalanche organization say the early season snow brings risks in the backcountry.
Summit County slides
At least seven of the avalanches so far this year occurred inside or near Summit County’s borders.
One between Herman Gulch and the Loveland Pass exit of Interstate 70 closed the westbound lanes for about an hour Monday while crews worked to clear the roadway, and another “medium” slide on Sunday, Nov. 20, surprised a skier trying to get fresh tracks on Idiot’s Cornice to the west of Loveland Pass. A second avalanche on Loveland Pass was reported Sunday near a cornice wall that faces north.
The first slide recorded in Summit County was reported on Nov. 16 at Glacier Mountain near Montezuma. The write-up from the incident described a hard slab above a layer near the ground and wind loading as the main reasons for the avalanche.
What to watch out for
All of the reports from recent avalanches describe a weak and degrading layer beneath a slab created by high winds. A layer of new snow added a new factor in the most recent accidents.
“It does not take much wind to drift low-density snow, and the recent snow was just cohesive enough to avalanche,” the Colorado Avalanche Information Center wrote in a social media post Sunday.
On Friday, avalanche observers for the center deliberately triggered an avalanche by skiing across a steep slope that showed signs of shooting cracks along the top of the snow drift. Officials say this test was a good example of current risks mentioned in avalanche forecasts.
Though the snow depth was shallow in the area of the test, the slab broke at nearly at ground level causing several feet of snow to slide.
The current forecast for Summit County says wind slabs are possible mainly on south and east slopes, and persistent slabs are possible on east to north facing slopes.
“As we continue to gain volume in our snowpack, an avalanche’s potential size will also increase,” an avalanche forecast discussion posted Monday stated. “Use caution if you find a slope with continuous snow coverage on north through east-facing slopes, as these avalanches might break bigger than you expect.”
For a full forecast and more information on how to recreate safely during avalanche season, visit Avalanche.state.co.us.
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